February 27, 2024

A senior Labour frontbencher has confirmed the party has ditched its commitment to spend £28bn a year on green investment schemes if it wins this year’s election.

Darren Jones, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said on Friday Labour would decide how much to spend on environmental programmes once it got into government, depending on the individual schemes and the state of the economy.

The comments mark the first time a shadow minister has publicly acknowledged the party is no longer targeting the £28bn figure, which had become a totem of the party’s green ambitions but also a subject of repeated attack from the Conservatives.

The Guardian revealed on Thursday that the party leader, Keir Starmer, had decided to drop the commitment and focus instead on the party’s promise to have clean power by 2030.

Jones told Sky News: “The number that we will get to, if we are in government, will be subject to two things.

“Firstly, it will be subject to the state of the economy. We know we’re going to inherit a bad economy from the Conservatives, but we have plans to turn that around, and of course, we hope to be successful doing that. But it will also be subject to case-by-case business cases that if, I’m the chief secretary to the Treasury in the next Labour government, I will have to sign off.”

He said the amount spent “will depend on what the types of projects are, what the types of partnerships are with the private sector, and also our ability for the market, for our country, to deliver on those projects”.

“The number will move around just as a matter of fact,” he said. “It will depend on the strength of the economy – we will only invest when it’s affordable – but also on a case-by-case basis working with the private sector.”

Party officials have been discussing for weeks what to do about the £28bn commitment, which was made by the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, in 2021, but which has been steadily scaled back since then.

Last year Reeves said the target would only be hit in the second half of the parliament, and even then only if the party could fulfil its economic promise to have debt falling as a share of economic output by the end of a five-year period.

In recent weeks, however, Starmer has continued to stick by the £28bn target, even while downgrading it from a “pledge” to an “ambition”. Asked earlier this month by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg whether the promise would make it into the party’s manifesto, Starmer said: “In the way I’ve just described, then yes, of course.”

A party spokesperson told the Guardian two weeks ago: “We are committed to Labour’s green prosperity plan to drive growth and create jobs, including our plan to ramp up to £28bn of annual investment in the second half of the parliament, subject to our fiscal rules.”

Jones’s comments on Friday, however, reflect a new strategy by the party to drop the £28bn figure and focus instead on the schemes they have already announced, including a home insulation rollout and a new publicly owned energy company. Those schemes however, add up to just under £10bn a year, meaning the party’s ambitions have now, in effect, been scaled back by two-thirds.

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